09 October 2013

Methoni: Law and order

Column in the central plateia of Methoni wher
all  announcements were made, public
justice enacted, and the main market held.

Volume 4  of Sathas has a wonderful collection of laws and market regulations for Venetian Methoni. Laws were produced when there were problems to be solved. Some were produced locally, by the governor and his advisors, some were produced in Venice. New laws were announced by the gastaldo (and a trumpet) in Venetian-Italian and Greek at the column in the central plateia -- which still stands, as well as at the land and sea gates, and at other relevant locations.  Very similar laws were in effect at Koroni, though not always the same, and at Nauplion. Some monetary equivalents:
                            1 ducat          = 130 (1424) - 175 (1457) soldi
                            1 soldo           = 4 tornesi/torneselli
                            1 hyperperon = 20 soldi/80 tornesi
                            300 soldi       = month's wages for a soldier or sailor
  • It has been noticed that spicers and other shops in Methoni sell risigal and arsenic indiscriminately to anyone who wishes to buy. It might happen that one might be poisoned by his wife and die.  To avoid such errors, no one will sell risigal, arsenic, or other poisonous substances without a prescription and the knowledge of the paid city doctors.  If anyone does so, he will stay in prison for one full year, without remission.
  • 1415. The Honorable Castellan of Koroni and Methoni, misser Marco Dandolo, orders that from now on no one should throw, or cause to be thrown, garbage or night soil into the port of Methoni inside the breakwater, under penalty of 10 hyperpera for each offense, half to go to the accuser.
  • 1416. It has been noticed that there are many errors in the cadaster with people not declaring what they should. It is ordered that within the next 8 days, all the householders in the casali 1of this territory, whatever their class, should declare the residents in their house, and who has been born, or died, or fled, or returned, or come to stay, under penalty of 10 hyperpera for each omission, half to go to the accusor. Also they are to report their animals, whether bull or cow or mule, or if one has died. For a second offense they will pay another 10 hyperpera, and their hair and beard cut off, and put in the stocks. For a third offence, another 10 hyperpera, and they are to be branded three times with the seal of S. Marco.
  • 1426. It has been noticed that horses are being brought into the territories of Koroni and Methoni by Greeks, Albanians, and Serbs, and by people from the Greek territories, and from the Principality. They are sold to our people with the result of all kinds of errors. From here on, a Greek or Albanian or Serb or anyone else who wants to sell or buy a horse has to prove to the castellans where he got the horse.
  • 1427. It is noticed that there are those who do not obey the commands of the Lords Castellans and presume to come and go outside the borgo by way of the enclosure at the house of ser Jacomo da Pesaro to the shore. From here on, anyone who does will pay a fine of 10 hyperpera for each offense. If he cannot pay the 10 hyperpera, he will receive 25 lashes at the column. No person, whether soldier or citizen of the territory, of whatever rank, can carry outside the borgo of Methoni, either by land or sea, any crossbow without the permission of missier the Castellan, under penalty of losing the crossbow which will become the property of the commune. The accuser will have half of the value of the crossbow.
  • 1436.  It is noticed that there are soldiers and landworkers who leave Methoni illegally without orders and without permission.  Missier Piero Zen, honorable castellan of Methoni and Koroni declares that any soldier or landworker who leaves without permission, from here on, will stay in prison for six months straight, and pay 100 hyperpera to the commune, and then will be banned from Methoni and Koroni without pay.
  • 1458. It has been noticed that there have been frequent break-ins and escapes from the prison, counter to the dignity of our authority.  Anyone who gives any aid to an escape, or who provides tools or picklocks (grimaldelli), or breaks into, or helps to break into the prison will pay 25 hyperpera for each offense, and will stay one month in prison. 
With Methoni as the primary port for disembarking troops for the Peloponnesian war in the 1460s and 70s, there is a sequence of laws concerned with weapons, noise, and the inevitable violence. The last of the three included here reflects despair over the harshness of Venetian taxes, & the continual raids on farms by continually unpaid soldiers.2
  • 1464. Presumptuous individuals who have no shame go at night and offend newly-weds verbally, and with horns and drums, with a chivaree (zaravarini). The Doge Lorenzo Loredan, and the captain and provveditor Benedetto Gritti, declare that as of the second hour of night (about 8 PM) no one will bear arms, and no one will have a chivaree day or night.
  • 1467. Presumptuous individuals bear arms in the piazza, market, and between the city gates, and they do the same at night. The rettori and provveditori order and declare that anyone who bears arms against anyone between the gates, market, and piazza from the house of the late Ser Nicolò Tinto3 as far as the palazzo will pay 200 hyperpera for each offense, and if he cannot pay he will be whipped from the piazza to the mole.4 Anyone who does this at night, in the city or the borgo5 will be imprisoned for 3 months.
  • 1469. It has been recognized that some individuals through malice have set fire to their fields or vines or trees, with the greatest damage to this city. Anyone of any rank who dares to do this without the express permission of the rettori will pay a penalty of 200 hyperpera (with half to the accuser and) and stay six months in prison. If he cannot pay he will be whipped and put in prison. 1480. The hand that set the fire will be cut off.
This last law was an attempt to stabilize the Methoni food supply. Taxes on produce and sales were important, but the real issue was food. Because of the war, the soldiers who needed to be fed and who looted, and the recent two years of plague with the loss of so many farm hands, Methoni was constantly on the brink of starvation.
  • 1478. Anyone of any rank who brings into his house a female slave or servant for carnal purposes will pay a penalty of 100 hyperpera and will stay 4 months in prison. Any female slave or servant who brings a man into her master's house for such purposes will be whipped from the harbor gate to the piazza.

Next week, Surprised by Time will look at some of the laws of the Methoni marketplace.

1  Casali: villages on landholdings.
2  In 1465, provveditor Jacopo Barbarigo had written of his embarrassment at not being able to control his         soldiers looting, because they weren’t being paid.
3  I have no idea who Ser Nicolò Tinto was, but apparently his house was quite prominent.
4  The mole led from the harbour gate to the little island tower
5  Borgo: the city outside the fortifications.


  1. Great post, thank you! Serbs in Methoni? Does it mean Slavic speakers from Mani?

  2. I'm not sure. It is 20 years later than the last Slav/Mani reference I have seen. Quite likely to be Serbs. There is similar phrasing some pages over. I'll see if I can find it & get a clue.

  3. Looking at it again it appears the Greeks, Albanians and Serbs had come from Venetian territories, not from the Despotate or the Principality. Still, it's a long way from Dalmatia to bring horses for sale. It would have inflated the price a lot. The Venetians made no distinction between Albanians and Arvanites, I wonder if they would have made a distinction between Orthodox Slavic speakers or they were all Serbs to them.

  4. I have a record of horses at Nauplion bought in Durazzo. I've not noticed any of the Venetian references to Mani Slavs using "Serb."

  5. Risigal is realgar (arsenic sulfide).

  6. Thanks, Alan. I couldn't find that anywhere, though I could find a place to order large amounts of it.


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